MONTGOMERY, Ala – In the wake of the deadly Saturday shooting in Dadeville that left four dead and 32 injured, Alabama Democrats have launched a renewed effort to implement gun safety laws in the state.
Holding a joint press conference Monday, state Democratic leaders called on their legislative colleagues to “come to the table” to pass “common sense gun legislation,” including red flag laws and more intensive background checks.
“Several days prior to the shooting in Dadeville, I appeared on Capitol Journal to discuss legislation that I’ve introduced in the Senate to establish a procedure for removing firearms from those who are deemed to be an immediate and present danger to themselves or others, more commonly known as red flag bills,” said Sen. Merika Coleman, D-Pleasant Grove, during the press conference at Integrity Funeral Home in Hueytown, just out of Birmingham.
“During that interview, just three days before the mass shooting in Dadeville, I said I don’t want us in Alabama to have to respond to a mass shooting before we do something… and yet it happened. Just three days later, and we’re standing here. I am tired of hearing the wails and cries of parents who have lost their loved ones, and elected officials have not acted. We must do something.”
This latest mass shooting, followed closely by the deadly school shooting in Nashville weeks earlier, has sparked a familiar debate around gun safety nationwide.
Democrats have largely advocated for the implementation of red flag laws, with Michigan, Minnesota and Tennessee advancing such laws within the past month. Some have also called for assault weapons bans. Republicans have instead largely pointed to expanding mental health resources as the best tool to combat gun violence, and have often voiced concerns over red flag laws and assault weapons bas as potentially infringing on the Second Amendment.
It is unclear whether such measures would have applied in the Dadeville shooting. Unlike previous high-profile incidents, law enforcement has not identified a shooter or spoken to a motive in the immediate aftermath. ALEA investigators said Monday that shell casings found at the scene show that hand guns were used in the shooting and not high powered rifles.
At the press conference, Coleman was joined by a number of state Democratic leaders, including Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, who both called on their legislative colleagues to work with them in passing more effective gun safety laws.
“Our gun homicide rate is 25 times higher than the rest of the world,” Givan said. “It’s not mental health that’s the problem; the problem is too many guns, not enough checks and restrictions.”
Givan went on to call for a ban on the purchasing of assault rifles for anyone under 21, a measure she had previously tried to implement with a bill in 2018, though it failed to become law.
Smitherman joined in Givan and Coleman’s calls for gun safety legislation, calling on his colleagues to pass laws banning weapon modifiers such as trigger activators, which similar to bump stocks, are devices that can significantly increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic firearm.
He also called for more intensive background checks for firearm purchases that include emotional and mental health checks, and called for legislators to support a bill introduced recently that would hold parents criminally liable were their firearm to be brought to school by their child.
“Action must be taken, and taken immediately; there have been too many tragedies, and the pace of these mass shootings continues to get faster every day,” Smitherman said.
“Already, there have been 162 mass shootings in this country, and it’s only Apr. 17. No child in Alabama should be afraid of getting shot and killed at a sweet 16 birthday party, no child should have to worry about gun violence in their schools, or fear one of their classmates bringing their parents’ gun on campus.”
Additionally, Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, announced that he will introduce a number of new gun safety bills.
“I’ve been working on the proposals since I was elected, and many of them came up during the campaign, so this is not in response to Dadeville or any sort of reactionary effort,” Ensler told Alabama Daily News. “It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time, and the timing of it happens to be that I was able to get the bills finalized at this same time.”
Ensler said he hoped to join with Coleman in introducing his own bill implementing a red flag law, and that such a bill would be one of eight he will detail on Thursday during the press conference.
“These bills will deal with a variety of aspects on the front end of trying to prevent gun violence and steer young people away from it, and then also implement practices and measures that have worked in other places throughout the country in other states,” Ensler said.
“They’re all reasonable measures that should receive bi-partisan support because they are bigger than any one party or ideology.”
While eight separate bills will be revealed Thursday, Ensler shared that at least one will be a red flag law bill, and another will be related to banning trigger activators. Regarding Ensler’s trigger activator bill, a similar bill has already been introduced by Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, which would make it a Class C felony for an individual to possess a trigger activator.
Calling Wood’s proposal a “really good bill,” Ensler said his version would have “some slight differences” in that it would be “a little bit broader in scope,” but that he hoped he could work with Wood in reconciling the two bills together.
Wood’s bill received a favorable report last week in the House Judiciary Committee.
In an apparent effort to quash concerns from Second Amendment advocates, Ensler, an attorney, said he felt none of his proposals infringed on Alabamians’ constitutional rights.
“All of these proposals, I feel very strongly that they uphold the Second Amendment right,” he told ADN. “In no way do they infringe on people’s rights, but they are measures that are geared toward reducing gun violence. They will not stop every act of gun violence, but they certainly can help.”